How to do Hanging Knee Raises + Variations | Videos

How to do Hanging Knee Raises banner

Hanging knee raises are a critical abdominal movement to developing your lower abs and creating that perfect six pack. If you’re still persevering with crunches or the ab curl machine and not getting the results you desire, learning how to do the hanging knee raise and integrating into your next ab workout is a must. 

Hanging knee raises are one of the highest muscle fibre activation movements you can execute for increased abdominal development, core strengthening and sporting performance. 

Although it is a simple movement to execute, hanging knee raises are very difficult for most recreational gym goers to perform properly, due to the enhanced oxygen debt to most traditional ab exercises and harnessing of other stabiliser muscles.

Read on to see how to perform the hanging knee raise with correct form as well as adpations and progression.

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Definition: What are hanging knee raises?

What do hanging knee raising do I hear you ask, well here is our definition:

"The hanging knee raise exercise is where the individual is “hanging” from their arms utilising the core muscles and hip flexors to pull their knees up towards their chest"

How to do the Hanging Knee Raise

The traditional hanging knee raise is performed using a pull-up bar, but to achieve hanging leg raise progression, try doing it with gymnastic rings.

Gym Equipment Needed

  • Pull-up bar or rings 

Starting Position:  

  • Using the pull-up bar, grip the bar with an overhand grip (supinated), slightly wider than shoulder width apart, although you can wider if you prefer.
  • Ensure your body aligned and straight before taking your bodyweight


  • Keeping your head up and facing forward, ensuring your legs are together with toes pointed, exhale and actively contract your abdominals to slowly raise your knees up towards your chest.
  • Once your knees are at their highest point, squeeze your abdominals before slowly releasing. Ensure your back is kept tense throughout the movement to prevent you from swaying.
  • As you release take a big inhale of air and do not fully extend your legs back out, before repeating the movement. This is key to keeping the abdominals under stress throughout each repetition.

how to do the hanging knee raise image

Find out later the optimal rest gaps, rep ranges and number of sets for the hanging knee raise based on your fitness goals….


What muscles do Hanging Knee Raises Work?

Muscles Worked: 

Hanging knee raise muscles worked graphic

  • Rectus abdominis – The main muscle targeted from the hanging knee raise
  • Hip Flexors – Create hip flexion and support the rectus abdominis
  • Internal and External Oblique’s – Help support the movement and act as stabilisers in the hip and spine.
  • Forearms – The forearms are placed under stress and act as a stabiliser to keep the body in position and prevent swinging. To build up your forearm strength to execute this exercise properly, try these forearm exercises

Read on to how to target the obliques with this ab exercise….



Hanging Knee Raise with a Twist

Hanging knee raise oblique crunch or simply put hanging knee raise to the side as it is sometimes simply referred places extra emphasis on the oblique’s during the exercise. This variation is scientifically proven to increase the muscle fibre recruitment than a standard hanging knee raise.

Here’s how you do it….

Starting Position:

  • Resume the same starting position as a normal hanging knee raise with hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart with an overhand grip. 


  • Once in the starting position, with the twisting hanging knee raise pull your knees up and across to one side of your body.
  • Allow your hips to rotate until your toes are perpendicular to the floor.
  • Try and squeeze and then slowly release back to the starting position, ensuring your legs do not fully extend before repeating on the opposite side.


hanging knee raises to the side image

Hanging Knee Raise Tips / Mistakes to Avoid

  • Safety First – If you suffer from back problems, are pregnant, suffer from rectus diastasis or had surgery on your stomach recently leave the hanging knee exercise well alone.
  • Try not to bend your arms when lifting your knees. Your upper back should not be utilised during this exercise.
  • Remember to breathe out as you contract and breathe in when during the eccentric contraction phase.
  • Lift with your hips and engage your core to prevent swinging during the hanging knee raise with a twist.
  • If you still find yourself swinging, try the hanging knee raise variation below in a Romanian chair which will isolate the abdominals. 

Find out in the next chapter how you make the hanging knee raise progressive (harder) or regressive (easier)…..

 How can you make hanging knee raise progressive & regressive? | Harder and Easier 

Hanging knee raises is an advanced movement and if your new to it, strengthening the muscles involved in your core workouts is a good way to prepare and build yourself up to executing the movement. Here are some hanging knee raise alternatives that will replicate part or all of the movement that you want to include into your existing programme:

How to Make the Hanig Knee Raise Regressive

  • Lying leg raises – Strengthens the rectus abdominis and hip flexors used within haning knee raises. Start with just doing the striaght leg, but add in twists to activate the obliques used for the hanging knee raise to one side. 

hanging knee raises image

  • Seated Leg Raises - Replicates the movement of a hanging knee raise, but as you're on the floor, you can use your bottom and arms for support. Use a bent leg to start with before moving onto fully extending the legs as far from the axis as possible for maximum stress. 

Seated Leg Raises image

  • Captain’s chair knee Raise – Try captain’s chair knee raises by pressing your forearms down and keeping your back firmly pressed against the rest. This removes part of the core and pressure on the forarms, shoulders and back from the exercise.

Captains chair knee raise image

  • Pike – Hold a pike with an isometric contraction, which harnessing the exact same muscle groups

hanging knee raise with a twist image

  • Hang from the bar – This will build up the strength in your forearms, back, develop grip strength and engage your core

  • Single legs – Try performing the captain’s chair knee raise with just one leg at a time first, before moving onto both legs.

Captains chair knee raises image

How to make the hanging knee raise progressive:

Once you have mastered the hanging knee raise and need to make the exercise harder to sustain hypertrophy there are a range of progressive variations you can deploy into your programme:

Weighted Hanging Knee Raises

Place a light dumbbell in between your feet to add weight to your lower body.

Weighted Hanging Knee Raises image


Hanging Leg Raise

The hanging leg raise is a progression from the hanging knee raise. By extending your legs, you naturally increase the weight you are lifting away from the fulcrum of your body.

Hanging Leg raises image


Hanging Leg Raise Toes to Bar

This is a very advanced movement. By going past a 90-degree angle, you increase the range of motion and therefore increase msucle fibre activation.

Hanging leg raise toes to bar image

Find out the key benefits, and what weight and REPs you should be aiming for this ab exercise gives you over sit-ups and crunches….

Hanging Knee Raise Benefits

  • Hanging knee raises with a twist and traditional mainly targets the rectus abdominis and can increase both muscular size and strength.
  • It can help build muscular stability in the upper back and shoulders.
  • Enhances grip strength and helps develop your forearms
  • Recruits more muscle fibres than any other abdominal based movement
  • Engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously and works the muscles isometrically, concentrically and eccentrically in the same movement. 

Who should do the hanging knee raise & What sets, REPs and rest gaps should I be aiming for?

The hanging knee raise exercise can be adapted depending on your fitness goals, whether you’re a recreational gym goer, bodybuilder, athlete, trying to improve core strength or mobility. Whichever your goal, choose the appropriate weight and rep range without compromising form to maximise your results:

Putting on Muscle Mass – Hanging knee raises for abs can utilised to put on muscle mass:

  • REP range – 8-12 REPs
  • 2-3 sets
  • 45-90 seconds rest between sets

Tone / Muscular Endurance – The hanging leg knee raise can be used as an endurance exercise for tone and cardiovascular benefits:

  • REP Range – 12-20+ REPs·     
  • 2-4 sets
  • 30-45 secondsrest between sets 

Strengthening / Power – The hanging knee raise for abs can be used to develop strength and power when sticking between this REP range. You may need to add a weight depending on your core strength: 

  • 3-5 REPs – 80 – 90% of your one REP max
  • 4-5 sets
  • 180 – 340 seconds rest between sets 

Want more exercises to master? Try these below:



Hanging knee raises should be an integral part of your core workout and are a great way of fatiguing the abdominals prior to performing other core-based exercises. If you love fitness and working out in general, why not make it your new career and become a personal trainer or learn more on nutrition with OriGym’s Level 4 nutrition course.

Written by Luke Hughes

CEO and Co-Founder

Join Luke on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Luke is the CEO and Co-Founder of OriGym. Holding a first-class degree in Sport and Exercise and an MSc in Sport and Nutrition, he is also qualified as a Level 4 Personal Trainer with various specialist credentials covering the entire spectrum of health, fitness and business. Luke has contributed to a variety of major industry publications, including Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Metro, Cosmopolitan, The Mirror, The Sun, The Standard and more.

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